A Shilling for Candles, by Josephine Tey

Chapter 16

The dossier was filling up nicely. Henry Gotobed had been an estate carpenter near Long Eaton, and had married a laundry maid at the “big house.” He had been killed in a threshing-mill accident, and — partly because his father and grandfather had been estate servants, partly because she was not strong enough to work — the widow had been given a small pension. The cottage at Long Eaton having to be vacated, she had brought her two children to Nottingham, where there was better hope of ultimate employment for them. The girl was then twelve and the boy fourteen. It had been curiously difficult to obtain information about them after that. Information other than the bare official record, that is to say. In the country, changes were slow, interests circumscribed, and memories long. But in the fluctuating life of the town, where a family stayed perhaps six months in a house and moved elsewhere, interest was superficial where it existed at all.

Meg Hindler, the Newsreel’s protegée, had proved the only real help. She was an enormous, hearty, loud-voiced, good-natured woman, who cuffed her numerous brood with one hand and caressed with the other. She was still suffering a little from a Nell Cozens phobia, but when she could be kept off the Cozens tack she was genuinely informative. She remembered the family not because there was anything memorable about them, but because she had lived with her own family across the landing from them, and had worked in the same factory as Chris, so that they sometimes came home together. She had liked Chris Gotobed in a mild way; didn’t approve of her stuck-up ideas, of course; if you had to earn your living by working in a factory, then you had to earn your living by working in a factory, and why make a fuss about it? Not that Chris made a fuss, but she had a way of shaking the dust of the factory off her as if it was dirt. And she wore a hat always; a quite unnecessary piece of affectation. She had adored her mother, but her mother couldn’t see anything in life but Herbert. A nasty piece of work, if ever there was one, Herbert. As slimy, sneaking, cadging, self-satisfied a piece of human trash as you’d meet in a month of Sundays. But Mrs. Gotobed thought he was the cat’s whiskers. He was always making it difficult for Chris. Chris had once talked her mother into letting her have dancing lessons — though what you wanted dancing lessons for, Meg couldn’t think: you’d only to watch the others hopping around for a little and you’d got the general idea: after that it was only practice — but when Herbert had heard about it he had quickly put a stop to anything like that. They couldn’t afford it, he said — they never could afford anything unless Herbert wanted it — and besides, dancing was a light thing, and the Lord wouldn’t approve. Herbert always knew what the Lord would like. He not only stopped the dancing lesson idea but he found some way of getting the money Chris had saved and that she had hoped her mother would make up to the required amount. He had pointed out how selfish it was of Chris to save money for her own ends when their mother was so poorly. He talked such a lot about their mother’s bad health that Mrs. Gotobed began to feel very poorly indeed, and took to her bed. And Herbert helped eat the delicacies that Chris bought. And Herbert went with his mother for four days to Skegness because Chris couldn’t leave the factory and it just happened that this was one of the numerous occasions when Herbert was without a job.

Yes, Meg had been helpful. She did not know what had become of the family, of course. Chris had left Nottingham the day after her mother’s funeral, and because the rent was paid up to the end of the week Herbert had stayed on alone in the house for several days after. Meg remembered that because he had had one of his “meetings” in the house — he was always having meetings where he could hear the sound of his own voice — and the neighbors had to complain about the noise of the singing. As if there wasn’t enough row always going on in a tenement without adding meetings to the din! What kind of meetings? Well, as far as she could remember he had begun with political harangues, but very soon took to religion; because it doesn’t matter how you rave at your audience, when it’s religion they don’t throw things. She personally didn’t think it mattered to him what he was talking about as long as he was the person who was talking. She never knew anyone who had a better opinion of himself with less cause than Herbert Gotobed.

No, she didn’t know where Chris had gone, or whether Herbert knew her whereabouts. Knowing Herbert, she thought that Chris had probably gone without saying good-bye. She hadn’t said good-bye to anyone, if it came to that. Meg’s younger brother, Sydney — the one that was now in Australia — had had a fancy for her, but she didn’t give him any encouragement. Didn’t have any beau, Chris didn’t. Funny, wasn’t it, that she should have seen Christine Clay on the screen often and often, and never recognized Chris Gotobed. She had changed a lot, that she had. She’d heard that they made you over in Hollywood. Perhaps that was it. And of course it was a long time between seventeen and thirty. Look what a few years had done to her, come to think of it.

And Meg had laughed her ample laugh and revolved her ample figure for the detective’s inspection, and had given him a cup of stewed tea and Rich Mixed Biscuits.

But the detective — who was the Sanger who had assisted at the non arrest of Tisdall, and who was also a Clay fan — remembered that even in a city there are communities who have interests as narrow and memories as long as any village dwellers, and so he had come eventually to the little house in a suburb beyond the Trent where Miss Stammers lived with a toy Yorkshire terrier and the wireless. Both terrier and wireless had been given her on her retirement. She would never have had the initiative after thirty years of teaching at Beasley Road Elementary School to acquire either on her own behalf. School had been her life, and school still surrounded her. She remembered Christina Gotobed very clearly indeed. What did Mr. Sanger want to know about her? Not Mr.? A detective? Oh, dear! She did hope that there was nothing serious the matter. It was all a very long time ago, and of course she had not kept in touch with Christina. It was impossible to keep in touch with all one’s pupils when one had as many as sixty in a class. But she had been an exceptionally promising child, exceptionally promising.

Sanger had asked if she was unaware that her exceptionally promising pupil was Christine Clay?

“Christine Clay? The film actress you mean? Dear me. Dear me!”

Sanger had thought the expression a little inadequate until he noticed her small eyes grow suddenly large with tears. She took off her pince-nez and wiped them away with a neatly folded square of handkerchief.

“So famous?” she murmured. “Poor child. Poor child.”

Sanger reminded her of the reason for Christine’s prominence in the news. But she seemed less occupied with the woman’s cruel end than with the achievement of the child she had known.

“She was very ambitious, you know,” she said. “That is how I remember her so well. She was not like the others: anxious to get away from school and become wage earners. That is what appeals to most elementary children, you know, Mr. Sanger: a weekly wage in their pockets and the means of getting out of their crowded homes. But Christine wanted to go to the secondary school. She actually won a scholarship — a ‘free place,’ they call it. But her people could not afford to let her take it. She came to me and cried about it. It was the only time I had known her to cry: she was not an emotional child. I asked her mother to come to see me. A pleasant enough woman, but without force of character. I couldn’t persuade her. Weak people can be very stubborn. It was a regret in my mind for years, that I had failed. I had great feeling for the child’s ambition. I had been very ambitious once myself, and had — had to put my desire aside. I understood what Christina was going through. I lost sight of her when she left school. She went to work in the factory, I remember. They needed the money. There was a brother who was not earning. An unsympathetic character. And the mother’s pension was small. But she made her career, after all. Poor child. Poor child!”

Sanger had asked, as he was taking his departure, how it was that she had missed the articles in the newspapers about Christine Clay’s childhood.

She never saw Sunday newspapers, she said, and the daily paper was handed on to her a day late by her very kind neighbors, the Timpsons, and at present they were at the seaside, so that she was without news, except for the posters. Not that she missed the papers much. A matter of habit, didn’t Mr. Sanger think? After three days without one, the desire to read a newspaper vanished. And really, one was happier without. Very depressing reading they made these days. In her little home she found it difficult to believe in so much violence and hatred.

Sanger had made further inquiries from many people about that unsympathetic character Herbert Gotobed. But hardly anyone remembered him. He had never stayed in a job for more than five months (the five months was his record: in an ironmonger’s) and no one had been sorry to see him go. No one knew what had become of him.

But Vine, coming back from interviewing the onetime dresser, Bundle, in South Street, had brought news of him. Yes. Bundle had known there was a brother. The snapping brown eyes in the wizened face had snapped ferociously at the very mention of him. She had only seen him once, and she hoped she never saw him again. He had sent in a note to her lady one night in New York, to her dressing room. It was the first dressing room she had ever had to herself, the first show she had been billed in, Let’s Go! it was. And she was a success. Bundle had dressed her as a chorus girl, along with nine others, but when her lady had gone up in the world she had taken Bundle with her. That’s the sort her lady was: never forgot a friend. She had been talking and laughing till the note was brought in. But when she read that she was just like someone who was about to take a spoonful of ice cream and noticed a beetle in it. When he came in she had said, “So you’ve turned up!” He said he’d come to warn her that she was bound for perdition, or something. She said, “Come to see what pickings there are, you mean.” Bundle had never seen her so angry. She had just taken off her day makeup to put on her stage one, and there wasn’t a spark of color anywhere in her face. She had sent Bundle out of the room then, but there had been a grand row. Bundle, standing guard before the door — there were lots even then, who thought they would like to meet her lady — couldn’t help hearing some of it. In the end she had to go in because her lady was going to be late for her entrance if she didn’t. The man had turned on her for interrupting, but her lady had said that she would give him in charge if he didn’t go. He had gone then, and had never to her knowledge turned up again. But he had written. Letters came from him occasionally — Bundle recognized the writing — and he always seemed to know where they were, because the address was the correct one, not a forwarded affair. Her lady always had acute depression after a letter had come. Sometimes for two days or more. She had said once, “Hate is very lowering, isn’t it, Bundle?” Bundle had never hated anyone except a cop who was habitually rude to her, but she had hated him plenty, and she agreed that hate was very weakening. Burned you up inside till there was nothing left.

And to Bundle’s account of Christine’s brother was added the report of the American police. Herbert Gotobed had entered the States about five years after his sister. He had worked for a short while as a sort of houseman for a famous Boston divine who had been taken (in) by his manners and his piety. He had left the divine under some sort of cloud — the exact nature of the cloud was doubtful since the divine, either from Christian charity or more likely from a reluctance to have his bad judgment made public, had preferred no charges — and had disappeared from the ken of the police. It was supposed, however, that he was the man who, under the name of the Brother of God, had toured the States in the role of prophet, and had been, it was reported, both an emotional and financial success. He had been jailed in Kentucky for blasphemy, in Texas for fraud, in Missouri for creating a riot, in Arkansas for his own safety, and in Wyoming for seduction. In all detentions he had denied any connection with Herbert Gotobed. He had no name, he said, other than the Brother of God. When the police had pointed out that relation to the deity would not be considered by them an insuperable obstacle to deportation, he had taken the hint and had disappeared. The last that had been heard of him was that he had run a mission in the islands somewhere — Fiji, they thought — and had decamped with the funds to Australia.

“A charming person,” Grant said, looking up from the dossier.

“That’s our man, sir, never a doubt of it,” Williams said.

“He certainly has all the stigmata: greed, enormous conceit, and lack of conscience. I rather hope he is our man. It would be doing the world a good turn to squash that slug. But why did he do it?”

“Hoped for money, perhaps.”

“Hardly likely. He must have known only too well how she felt about him.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him to forge a will, sir.”

“No, neither would I. But if he has a forged will, why hasn’t he come forward? It will soon be a fortnight since her death. We haven’t a thing to go on. We don’t even know that he’s in England.”

“He’s in England all right, sir. ‘Member what her housekeeper said: that he always knew where she was? Clay had been more than three months in England. You bet he was here, too.”

“Yes. Yes, that’s true. Australia? Let me see.” He looked up the New York report again. “That’s about two years ago. He’d be difficult to trace there, but if he came to England after Clay he shouldn’t be difficult to trace. He can’t keep his mouth shut. Anything quite so vocal must be noticeable.”

“No letters from him among her things?”

“No, Lord Edward has been through everything. Tell me, Williams, on what provocation, for what imaginable reason, would a Champneis, in your opinion, tell a lie?”

“Noblesse oblige,” said Williams promptly.

Grant stared. “Quite right,” he said at length. “I hadn’t thought of that. Can’t imagine what he could have been shielding, though.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tey/josephine/shilling-for-candles/chapter16.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04